Committee Gives Students a Voice
By Megan Eichenberg
Each month, 25 University of Mary Washington faculty and staff members and six students meet to discuss change.
Founded in the spring of 2007 by Nina Mikhalevsky, UMW acting provost and vice president for strategy and policy, the Student Services Committee works to improve and advance relationships between departments of student services and between students and the administration.
The University’s changes in library hours during exam week, the pilot parking program and the addition of late night self-serve Starbucks coffee in the Dome Room are each recent outcomes of Student Services Committee meetings.
“The idea was to bring together the offices that provide basic services to students and ensure student needs are being met,” Mikhalevsky said.
Mikhalevsky served as a chair on the committee during its first two years and is now a current member.
She describes the committee as a “mechanism for students to raise concerns, particularly pertaining to student services.”
Issues addressed at the committee’s Jan. 15 meeting include the Student Services Center at Lee Hall, the proposal of regular Eagle Spirit Days, and upcoming upgrades to the Simpson Library computers.
There are multiple ways for students to contact the committee with ideas and suggestions, including contacting student members and administrative chairs and posting on the “UMW Student Suggestion Forum” Facebook group.
The current chairs of the committee are Executive Assistant to the President Ranni Corbin, Executive Vice President Richard Hurley, and Vice President for Enrollment and Communications Martin Wilder.
“Students were an integral part of the committee from the beginning, providing student input and allowing the administrators to hear directly from students about issues and concerns,” Wilder said, who has served on the committee since it was founded. “I believe that this committee has been very valuable in identifying areas where the University can meet the needs of students.”
The six student members include senior Student Government Association President Sean O’Brien, senior Sarah Isaac, senior Kasey Walker, junior Emerson Ayestas, sophomore Kelly Reeder, and freshman Jaclyn Petrow.
“The purpose of the committee is to truly listen to the students and take their suggestions and try to run with them,” explained Reeder. “Those on the committee realize that they are here solely for the students, and it is their responsibility to address those questions, concerns, and requests.”
Reeder said she volunteered to create the Facebook forum so that more students would have access to the committee, and that each suggestion has been taken to the committee and addressed.
At every meeting, Reeder said the committee discusses points from previous months and how much progress has been made toward rectifying past and current student questions, suggestions, and concerns.
According to the January 15 meeting agenda, all offices will be moved into Lee Hall by the fall of 2009, beginning with the bookstore in February.
The agenda also notes that a separate Lee Hall Committee continues to work on front-line staff training and additional matters such as signage and a directory.
“The committee is focusing on making Lee Hall completely student- friendly,” Reeder said. “They realize that that is our space and it needs to be centered around our needs.”
She said the committee plans on having a student representative in Lee Hall who will gather student concerns and suggestions and forward them to the appropriate administrative department.
The January 15 meeting agenda lists twenty-two resolved issues and actions related to student life, involving students concerns, suggestions, and requests regarding parking, residence life, and other campus services.
A description of the resolved issue is followed by an account of the action taken to solve or clarify the issue.
For example, one issue listed is “Semester parking passes requested.”
The subsequent action explains, “A student entering in January pays $100 for the semester; a student entering in the fall pays the full year ($200), and if they leave before the start of the spring semester, they receive a $100 refund.”
Other actions taken as a result of student suggestions include additional customer service training planned during the spring semester for UMW Police, plans to turn the contractor parking lot at the end of Lee Hall back to students at the end of Lee Hall construction until Monroe Hall construction beings, and the placement of trashcans at the parking deck.
“In general, we try to fix anything we can immediately solve. The committee also tries to understand what our real priorities are involving student needs and address those first,” Mikhalevsky said.
At the April 25, 2008 committee meeting, the last meeting of the 2007-2008 academic year, the agenda lists several other accomplishments to date, including additional training for student services staff relating to knowledge about the operations of other offices on campus.
Ongoing goals identified in the April agenda include improving and enhancing communications across all student services and between students and the administration and addressing administrative “red-tape,” which Reeder explained as the committee working to make communications between students and the administration easier.
“There are a lot of faculty and staff who really care about students,” Mikhalevsky said. “We are working hard to address the needs of our students.”
Meganne Lemon, a sophomore who posted her concerns on the Facebook group, describes the forum as “a good way to give the students a better voice.”
However, Lemon adds, “If the Facebook group administrators could notify students who belong to the group of their activities or progress with the administration, then students might feel like their voices are important and would contribute more to the forum.”
Reeder said the committee decided to create the Facebook group to inform students about the committee and that the committee and is also considering creating flyers and hanging them around campus to further promote the committee.
“The committee really wants more student input,” Reeder said. “It is impossible to change any policies without the information from the students.”
Mikhalevsky said blast e-mails, such as the one informing students of the pilot parking program, are also a standard form of committee communication.
Faculty and staff members who currently serve on the committee, include Assistant Vice President for Public Safety and Community Services Susan Knick, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Cedric Rucker, Director of Student Activities Joseph Mollo, and Director of Residence Life Christine Porter.
“Since she arrived at UMW, President Hample has continually stressed the importance of providing our students with the highest level of service. Hopefully the Student Services Committee can play a key role in our efforts to give students the best possible experience here at Mary Washington,” Wilder said.
The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for February 19.